Thoughts on “Time of Your Life”

I recently hooked up Roku on my TV, which let me access CTV Throwback, which has a number of TV shows that I probably should watch at some point, the first show that I was going to watch was “Time of Your Life”, the short-lived “Party of Five” spinoff starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as her character Sarah from the show.  Now, since the series was short-lived I wasn’t holding out much hope for it, but in watching it I think that its biggest problem might be the same sort of issue that hit “John Woo’s Once a Thief”:  the show that it was that might have attracted viewers was not the show it advertised itself to be.

The premise of the show is that Sarah comes to New York from the West Coast to find her biological father.  Filled with excitement, she goes to see her mother’s old apartment and manages to arrange to stay in the apartment, unaware that someone is still living there.  That person is Romi, who has come to New York to become an actress, particularly in plays.  After that rough start, the two become somewhat friendly, at least, as Sarah runs around trying to find her father.  The most promising prospect turns out to not be her father, but cared for her mother and is interested in helping her, and at the end of the pilot episode Sarah decides to stay to see what she can make of herself all on her own.

The issue that I alluded to above is that the show for the most part seems to be the story of Sarah, and that seems to be how it was pitched at the time.  However, there are a number of other plots going on at the same time, including Romi’s attempts to get acting roles and balance her on-again-off-again boyfriend, the guy who lives in the apartment across the way.  Thus, the show comes across far more as a standard “young people trying to make a go of it” drama than as a story focusing on one lead character and her struggles.  This is not helped by the fact that Sarah’s plots often seem disconnected from the other plots.  But she still gets the headlining role and the show does seem to focus on her as the main character.  So it seems to me that people who came to the show wanting to follow Sarah will probably be frustrated by the fact that there are all of those other plots going on that take up a lot of screen time, while people who don’t really care for Sarah but were looking for a good drama show with a number of plots among a number of people will be annoyed at how central she is to the show.  So Sarah is both too prominent and not prominent enough to satisfy any of the potential audiences for the show.

This is not helped by the fact that Sarah is the wrong sort of character for this show.  The idea would be to take her enthusiastic and optimistic personality and show her impact on all of these people by having that encourage them to keep chasing their dreams, even as they are worn-down and cynical from the struggles they’ve faced so far.  The problem is that Sarah, as a character, was never really optimistic, enthusiastic, or even empathetic, but overall was just incredibly emotional, which led her to get enthusiastically involved in things and to feel for others which spawned her helping them.  But she was also prone to getting really angry and upset about things, often things that didn’t seem worth getting that upset about.  When she was a minor character that we mostly saw through her interactions with Bailey, we could imagine that her outbursts were less her being emotional and more her simply being passive, so that the problems would build and build until the dam burst, which made it more understandable and so more forgivable.  Here, however, she is the main character and still gets overly upset at times.  Not only does this make her really annoying every time she does it (especially when even she knows that she’s overreacted), it takes away from her being the optimistic and enthusiastic person who is for the most part unshakeable in her optimism unless things really, really go wrong, meaning that she can’t be the catalyst for change that she would need to be in the lead role.  So even if you liked Sarah on “Party of Five”, you may not like her here and her character doesn’t work as the sort of character that the show seems to want her to be.

I wondered if this show was originally written with another character in mind for the lead but then was co-opted as this spinoff.  Romi is played by Jennifer Garner, which ads for CTV Throwback seem to hint was already fairly well known from another show (“13 Going on 30”).  At one point, her boyfriend talks about how she’s so much less cynical than he is, except that right before that she had a job filming dating videos and ruins one because the guy says that he’s attracted to someone like her but with bigger boobs, and when she is fired by that company steals the list of people who haven’t had a lot of contacts and throws a party with them promising them the ability to meet people, and charging them $20 a person to get in.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend is refusing to sleep with her because he’s kinda in a relationship with an older, rich person who is helping him out, and doesn’t want to give that — or potentially her — up but doesn’t want to “cheat” on her with Romi despite the fact that he’s falling in love with her.  So who’s the one who’s the more cynical, here?

It’s also the case that her plots interact with more people than Sarah’s do.  Sarah’s big plot that interacts with the most people is when she runs a temp agency and has Romi and the landlord working for her, but that’s about all the interaction she has with them in that plot, as much of it focuses on her somewhat boyfriend Spencer with a little bit of erstwhile suitor McGuire.  Meanwhile, Romi has a plot where she is auditioning for parts while her boyfriend is trying to make something of himself, and he does that by joining in a pyramid scheme by one of the other girls’ new boyfriends.  The boyfriend also becomes friends with McGuire.  When the scheme falls apart, the guy takes off, devastating the friend and leaving J.B. holding the bag.  He gets arraigned for the scheme at the same time as Romi needs to audition in L.A. for a part, and she has to choose between being with him and auditioning for the part.  She chooses the part, although since his hearing was five minutes really he should have told her to go.  But this is far more integrated plot than any of Sarah’s plots.

This makes me think that maybe what they should have done was made Romi the main character and instead of inserting Sarah instead inserting the friend of Romi’s that came over to stay later, coming for a visit and then staying to see if she could make it as a singer/actress herself.  The reason is that what the show did was introduce her in one episode and start a jealousy plot with Romi, and then have her killed off in the next episode to make Sarah not feel safe and to make Romi feel bad for being jealous of her.  This was far too quick to really provide the emotional heft that such a plot demands.  If the character had been around longer, then it would have been more of a shock and we could have let the jealousy angle simmer a bit instead of it coming into play pretty much fully formed, and if the friend had lifted Romi out of her feelings that she couldn’t make it then it would explain why she crashed out when she died.  And her being more optimistic and seeing the city as a land of hope instead of a land of broken dreams would have pretty much replaced anything that Sarah did in those same episodes.

I also should mention Spencer, because it’s the same sort of plot.  He starts out as the jerk son of a rich woman that Sarah works for, and then resurfaces when she goes to work for his stepmother.  He’s still a jerk, but somehow manages to be nice enough to her to get her to date him, but even then he’s, well, still a jerk.  So we don’t see why she suddenly likes him, and then she breaks up with him in an episode or two because she feels he’s trying to run her life while he feels that he’s just giving her the benefits of his experience and giving her advice.  This plot both hits her tendency to get really upset over things that probably don’t warrant her being that upset and a rushed plot where the time isn’t taken to develop why she thinks he’s changed enough to be worth dating and then the relationship ends soon afterwards without any real build up.  Ultimately, she ends up with McGuire, but other than some minor rivalry between the two nothing in that plot really impacts their getting together.

And McGuire is a bit of a stumble as well, because he’s someone who was a good musician but who backed away from it and has no intention of getting back into it.  The reason for this, ultimately, is because he got into drugs and being in the music scene hindered he’s getting clean.  As the show notes, Sarah already dealt with addiction with Bailey, and so it seems repetitive for anyone who actually cared about her character.  It would have worked better if McGuire just couldn’t take the pressure and so lacks ambition, while Spencer has oodles of ambition but doesn’t care about others very much, while McGuire’s main trait is being willing to help people out (that’s how they met, actually).  Then Sarah could find herself torn between the nice guy who doesn’t want to make anything of himself when that’s her entire goal in the city, and the somewhat jerky guy who definitely wants to make something of himself and wants her to make something of herself too, and wishing that she could combine those traits into one person.  Of course, careful viewers of “Party of Five” would note that that person was pretty much Bailey, which would make them wonder why she didn’t just stay with Bailey, or even go back to them.

The series only got one season, and again I always pay attention to the last episode to see if they knew that they were going to be cancelled or if it came as a surprise.  Like “Ghost Whisperer”, it seems like they might have suspected that it might be cancelled but made the plot so that it could continue if they got the chance.  J.B. goes to jail, but he can get out on parole in three months and so be back after the summer break.  McGuire decides to go out on tour again after finally getting into a relationship with Sarah, but again he’d be back after the summer break.  Sarah finds her father which resolves the initial premise of the show, but the show had moved beyond that anyway.  So they could have picked the series up after the summer break, but most of the big plots are resolved leaving nothing hanging for fans to wonder about.  So it feels complete, yet in a way that would have lent itself to new plots later.

But it didn’t get a second season, and so the only unresolved question is what I thought of it.  It was moderately entertaining, but unfocused.  I didn’t care for Sarah as the lead and liked Romi a lot better, and so thought that the show focused too much on Sarah and not enough on Romi, and the time spent on the various plots doesn’t leave enough time for any of them to be properly developed.  Ultimately, then, it’s a series that I don’t regret watching — especially since it was only 19 episodes — but almost certainly will not watch again.

Next up is another Jennifer Love Hewitt show from Throwback, which is “The Client List”.

One Response to “Thoughts on “Time of Your Life””

  1. Thoughts on “The Client List” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] I decided to test that out a bit more with a show that I couldn’t get anywhere else in “Time of Your Life”, and then decided to wrap up my Jennifer Love Hewitt exploration with “The Client […]

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